Bespoke tailoring brings to mind a snobbish English gentleman getting measured for a suit by his tailor on Saville Row. The words “economical” and “green” are not typically concepts associated with this aspect of fashion, but Naked Ape designer Shaldon Kopman aims to change that.
Off-the-shelf clothing doesn’t always fit properly and Kopman realised there was a need for bespoke menswear. “There was a big hole in the market and only a minor percentage of it was being filled,” he says from a quiet corner of his busy studio in Milpark, Johannesburg.
“I like to wear clothes that fit well and lots of men think in a similar way and have a similar physique to me: narrow waist, broad shoulders, slender, with long arms. It is extremely difficult to find stuff in the market.”
Kopman, a former fashion editor for Elle and Y magazines, began his career as a stylist. “My expertise comes from my background,” he says, adding that Naked Ape also offers style consulting.
“Everybody should have access to a stylist. A stylist will look at you with an outside eye and tell you what suits you and what doesn’t and what colours work on you. It’s a different approach to you looking in the mirror,” Kopman says.
“It’s not about what we’d like you to be — in terms of what the fashion world says and what the trend is dictating — it’s about your feelings and how you like to reflect yourself out there. You are what you wear. First impressions last.”
Bespoke may be the label’s speciality, but now Naked Ape is planning to break into ready-to-wear ranges for men and women.
“You have to get the cuts and grades absolutely perfect before you go out and make it,” Kopman says. “It is costly to produce quantities in order to be viable for manufacturing, so you are outlaying capital unless you have a deposit from a particular high-end boutique that is interested in stocking your brand.”
Naked Ape entered the market five years ago, but it only really hit the spotlight during SA Fashion Week in 2010 when it launched its bespoke collection.
“People still ask for that collection, because there’s a lack of that kind of fabrication as well as service in the market,” Kopman says.
“Everyone is going gaga about being bespoke. Bespoke is the new buzz word — like green is the new black. It’s not easy to achieve because you want to get it right for your client.”
His designs have a nomadic feel and he describes his clientele as “Afropolitan”.
His latest collection for fashion week is titled Layers of Freedom. In it he will focus on the wearer getting the most out of clothes while still taking care of the environment. He believes the word “eco” should apply to garments that are both economic and ecological.
Naked Ape has been lauded for setting trends and the new range — made from natural fibres including wool, silk, linen, cotton, bamboo, soybean and hemp, as well as recycled polyester — does not veer from this course.
“These are all natural, light and soft, environmentally friendly and biodegradable — and getting that right is difficult,” says Kopman. “Some of these fabrics are usually thought of as flea-market materials and people don’t realise that you can use them in fine tailored pieces as well.”
Kopman will reintroduce the concept of reversible clothing, complemented with detachable button stands so that the buttons are reversible too.
“There are a variety of ways you can wear one garment and so the range makes economic sense.
“There are common threads in all my collections,” says Kopman. “It’s for the man on the move, the street- and suit-savvy gentleman. It is for men who are getting out there and not stagnating.”